Abstract Lichens as biomonitors and neutron activation analysis as analytical technique have been employed to study the distribution of trace elements (TE) in a mountain region of north Italy (Biella) characterized by settlements of wool industry. Samples of airborne particulate matter collected onto filters, different species of lichens and samples of soils have been analyzed for the calculation of the enrichment factors (EFs) of more than 25 TE. By comparison of the corresponding EFs, the most suitable lichen species ( Parmelia caperata) was selected as specific TE biomonitor of the area investigated. Samples of this lichen were collected and analyzed for the evaluation of the TE distribution in four different locations. The results obtained from the analysis of the lichens gave information about the predominant direction of pollutants transportation, while those related to the concentrations found in the air particulate allowed the evaluation of the degree of the local TE atmospheric pollution.